* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Have you ever been in a public place and started your period? If that has not sent you in to panic, to find that the ladies toilets have no sanitary towels or tampon facilities is enough to send your hormones raging, because surely they are just as necessary as tissue roll right?! Well, you’re not alone. In fact, the epidemic of shame, embarrassment and a lack of resources is a global one.
According to a recent study, 86 per cent of American women have started their period unexpectedly in a public space without the supplies they needed, causing them to feel embarrassed, annoyed, anxious, stressed and panicked.
In the UK in 2015, statistics showed that 46 per cent of women were too scared to reveal the reason they needed a day off of work and today statistics show that 17 per cent of women worldwide have missed school or work in fear someone might discover they are on their period. In a study from Nepal, 41 per cent of girls reported missing school during their menstruation.
Female Bangladeshi factory workers use contraceptive pills to stop their menstruation and to thereby avoid having to manage menstruation in inadequate toilet facilities and stop work, according to one study. And at least 500 million girls and women globally lack adequate facilities for managing their periods, according to a 2015 report from UNICEF and the World Health Organisation.
Speaking to the CEO of Binti, a charity that provides sanitary towels, education on menstruation, and dignity to girls across the world, she explained: ‘one of the reasons I was compelled to start this charity was because of the realisation that I couldn’t compete as a businesswoman in a man’s world without a sanitary pad. Through our charity, we want to create an even playing field for all women’.
It seems women are currently playing on a field where they are looking backwards to check they haven’t left an ‘embarrassing’ mark behind them, rather than looking forward and striving in school or at work. All girls deserve the right to sanitary protection so they can stay in education. Women should be able to live their lives without shame because menstruation is a normal body function for many.
Menstruation, instead of being embraced and accommodated for, receives a lack of understanding, facilities and generates emotional distress. Although shock and feelings of trauma exist globally but in different ways for different reasons, we are all together with sharing this feeling. So we need to unite in eradicating this feeling and moving towards a society where the female body not only fits into our structures, but is celebrated.
Journalist Gloria Steinem said if ‘men could menstruate and women could not’ ‘menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event: men would brag about how long and how much’. You only have to look at the term ‘man flu’ to see how men have made it their right to be bed-bound and gain sympathy for a simple flu which we all contract but make no meal-deal over. Us women? Why have we still not made it our right to menstruate? Why have we not owned it, bragged about it, empowered it?
We have to make menstruation work in the workplace by raising our hands to say ‘I need to go to the ladies because I’ve started my period’. Or ‘there are no sanitary towels in the toilets so I’m popping to the shops’. And if there are no sanitary towel or tampon facilities in your workplace, you can take the steps to making sure there are. You can make that change.
Talk about menstruation at home with your sons and daughters, so they grow up understanding the human body, are respectful of what is natural to many, and can shape their workplaces to ensure women’s bodies are wholly welcomed. Education at home is as important as being educated in school.
If men men-struated, they would own it said Steinem. So let’s own womenstruation.
Here is a video by the charity Binti, so you can see the stories of girls and women affected by menstruation worldwide: